Ben Thexton’s story is amongst the most unexpected and inspiring we’ve heard yet. After a severe head injury nine years ago, Ben has defied doctors, qualifying with the ACCA, becoming the owner of multiple successful businesses and raising two young daughters.
Ben’s career started off in the construction industry, working on-site with his family’s business since he was 15. Ben did a degree in business and economics – then briefly tried out teaching before returning to the family business in an accounting capacity. He now owns his own fast-growing practice, specialising in the construction and property development industries, and a property development company… though quite a lot has happened in between.
An accident and an enormous strength of will
“The reason I became a qualified accountant was to put two fingers up to the doctor who said I might struggle.”
In 2012, Ben was hit by a car as he was crossing the road and suffered a severe brain injury. “I was placed in a coma and when I came around I was advised that my cognition would be impaired forever and I might struggle to hold down a full time job,” says Ben, surprisingly matter-of-factly. “I took that quite personally and it made me pig headed, I was like, ‘no, this isn’t going to affect my life.’”
“So a year or two later I signed up with ACCA. For three, four years I was just teaching myself – with all the textbooks out on the kitchen table – and finally qualified in 2018. So the reason I became a qualified accountant was to put two fingers up to the doctor who said I might struggle with my cognition.”
Investment group, to FDA, to business owner (on the eve of the pandemic)
Ben’s first move was to acquire as much experience as possible, joining an investment group and be mentored by CFOs. “Even though it was in industry, it was a semi practice because we had an accounting team which did everything. There were about 45 companies and it was really fast paced. I was doing loads of accounts every month and it made me do things and pick up things really quick.”
Ben then spent two years as an FD of a group of construction companies, before deciding to start his own practice. “Just before the pandemic, around February 2020, I decided – right I’m going to set a practice up, I’m going to do it.”
A new baby and self-imposed lockdown
On the 17th of February, Ben and his wife welcomed their second daughter, so productivity on his new business dipped as the sleepless nights soared. Ever the pragmatist – and with a keen focus on maintaining his mental health – Ben actually ‘locked down’ early, in preparation.
“When it was obvious we were going to go into lockdown, I went to IKEA and kitted out the entire office. I spent the week before lockdown mentally preparing myself, we didn’t leave the house and I stayed in my office working on the business. So when lockdown did eventually happen, I was mentally prepared for it and it didn’t come as a shock.”
Growing a new business off the back of pro bono work
For the first three or four months of Ben’s business – and lockdown – he was in survival mode. But not just for his own survival. “I offered myself freely to anybody that needed any support, helping them get CBILS loans, bounce back loans, grants, helping them with furlough and cashflow. I just thought – everybody’s trying to muck in and help, however they can’.”
“Our ethos and motto is working with you and I’m a great believer in paying it forward, helping people first, there’s no angle to it, it’s just ‘what can I do for you?’”
“I think that planted quite a lot of seeds. I was quite active, and still am, on LinkedIn and that really did help my business grow. Since then I’ve just seen a steady increase over the course of that year, to the point now where I’ve got three staff and I’ve moved into an office. It’s grown a lot quicker than I expected it to, so I know it’s working.”
AccountancyManager: Everything you need, in one software
When Ben started his practice he was keeping client records in a manual system. As the practice grew, he wanted something better to manage things. Little did he realise, he’d get much more than he’d planned.
“I did some research and came across AccountancyManager. What it’s provided is a foundation for growth. So as I grow the practice, I’m not worried that it’s going to get to a point where I don’t know where I’m up to with stuff, because it provides us with everything.”
“Other software has portions of it… AccountancyManager provides you absolutely everything.”
“What I like most about AccountancyManager – which is different to all the other softwares out there – is that you can do absolutely everything through it. AccountancyManager should be shouting that it’s a one-stop shop. Other software has portions of it, then you have to use other providers for bits which aren’t covered. AccountancyManager provides you absolutely everything, whether you’re a new business or even an existing practice using a variety of different softwares.”
Onboarding entirely through AM
Ben might be the first AM user we’ve spoken to who has a fully mapped out manual for running their practice. Mentioned on most pages… AccountancyManager. “We have a full operating manual of exactly how the business is run. Onboarding can take up so much time so we have a full process document just for that. And it all has to go through AccountancyManager. We don’t use any other software.”
“…You can send out proposals. I can get clients to sign up to the portal so all their documents are secure. We do the AML checks through AccountancyManager. Any specific risk assessments. We can apply for the tax agent access (64-8s) So we can do everything onboarding-wise with the clients through one piece of software.”
Quickbooks and Xero integrations making life easier
Ben likes that ‘there’s always something new on the horizon’ at AccountancyManager and enjoys filling out the surveys we send asking for opinions on improvements or planned features.
“One of the features recently introduced was the client integration function with QuickBooks. So once the client is live, we can integrate it with QuickBooks and it pre-populates the customer data. So that particular feature we’ve liked. Obviously now it integrates with QuickBooks and Xero, so we put client data onto the accounting package of choice when they’re on board.”
Task List – emptying heads since 2017
Everyone has their favourite bit about AccountancyManager and it’s usually automated record requests and reminders, the client portal or, like Ben, the automatically generating Task List. “The number one reason why we like it so much is that, for every client, we’re able to indicate what services are required, then that generates a task list.”
“Nothing comes as a shock, nothing’s ‘Oh, my God. How come that hasn’t happened? Everything’s there.”
‘So we have a team meeting every week and we’ll go through the tasks on AccountancyManager and say, right, this is what’s coming up this month. Let’s work on this and speak to clients. So it’s brilliant in that regard because I know in the background I can empty my head of what date stuff is due and what I need to be doing, because I know AccountancyManager is going to remind me.”
Portal and e-signing – with built-in notifications for you and your client
AM’s client portal isn’t just a secure place for you and your clients to access and sign documents. It also allows your clients to quickly check any of their own information, whenever they like. “If clients ask me , ‘oh, can you remind us of our VAT number?’ or ‘What’s our PAYE reference number, I’ll always direct them to their portal.”
“Then there’s an e-signing function within AccountancyManager. So any documents we want clients to look at and to sign, we’ll upload them into the portal. It will automatically send the client an email and they can go on and e-sign.”
“It’s perfect from a compliance point of view that everything’s in one software. We can see an audit log of exactly where the client’s up to.”
“We also get notified that they’ve signed it and it’s date stamped. So it’s perfect from a compliance point of view that everything’s in one software. We can go in and ‘this client signed this document on this date’. Same with AML. Same with letters of engagement. We can see an audit log of exactly where the client’s up to. So it helps so much in that regard.”
It’s just like having another member of staff
A few AM users have mentioned that they haven’t had to employ an administrator thanks to AccountancyManager. Ben goes one step further, likening AM to having an extra teammate. “I treat AccountancyManager as another member of staff, because in the background we’ve got a full audit trail of onboarding as well as all the information regarding what’s coming up.”
“We’ve tried all the softwares and they’re all good in their own way, but we’re with AccountancyManager – and there’s a reason why that is. Everything’s there. It’s a one stop shop for absolutely everything. And so there’s no reason for you to use anything else.”
The freedom to respond to clients asap
Like Ben mentioned earlier, TAC Accountants’ ethos is all around working with clients and being available for them. The construction and property development industries are particularly fast-moving (though it may not always feel like it), so Ben likes to respond as quickly as possible. Having AccountancyManager keeping his team on schedule has helped dramatically.
”I’ve made sure that the team I’ve got behind me is ensuring that we’re keeping up to date with everything, which frees me up to be able to provide the support clients need. Sometimes clients will call me or WhatsApp or send me an email and I’ll get back to them within a reasonable timescale, because that’s what they want. So every time I take a client on, I make sure they know that they can contact us.”
Ben also had a lot of insight around carving out a niche, delivering advisory services and using AM to manage those services. Look out for upcoming articles where we explore these areas in more detail.